Inside the Local Charm: Bella Russia
In the explosive age of blogging, the journalistic line between neutral correspondant and an active particpant is no longer certain. A studied reporter voyages beyond Google and sets sail for their facts; I can proudly say, calm waters and straight lines are not my forte and neither is separating facts from emotions. Where am I going with this? For my first written post on Pink Line Project’s ‘Pink Noise’ I'm going after a long-lost fantasy of mine, music columnist (reference my embarrassing attempt circa 2010). A good friend of mine, Alex Braden, finally put his talent where his mouth is and birthed Bella Russia, an instrumental, experimental sound organism.
“Did you mean: Belorussia?” thanks, Google. Luckily my personal results are embedded in the search and Bella Russia’s bandcamp was first. When you get to the sparse bandcamp page satisfy your soul with ‘Nocturne in Blue & Gold’ from a Hays Holladay’s experiment turned album, Rainbow Arcade. I may be the band’s second biggest groupie, after the extraordinarily talented Amy Braden (and wife to Alex), but I know genius when I hear it… Bella Russia is definitely on the verge.
This Friday, Alex and the other strong legs of the trio: Josh Braden and Nathan Mitchell, take stage at The Pinch alongside three great local bands: The Doozies, Big Hush and The Tender Thrill. In conjunction with the show I decided to interview Alex and get the inner charm of Bella Russia.
In five words describe Bella Russia?
I'm not good at brevity.
Where did the name Bella Russia originate?
We debated names after every practice for a while, but could never arrive at any sort of unanimity. I had been sort of saying "bella russia" in my head for a few years, really enjoying the way it sounded. We had booked our very first show at this noise marathon through Dr. Thomas Stanley at GMU Sound Art and needed a name or we couldn't be on the poster; so I told them Bella Russia. The guys were deservedly unpleased and kept telling people that it was a placeholder name, but the debate never really resurfaced, so it stuck.
A lot of people ask about why we chose that name, but my favorite reaction was from Zaki Ghul (Nerd Night, re:Collective), who is apparently from Belarus; his face got all scrunched up and he grunted, "Dude. Those are my people."
How did the group form?
Being brothers from a large, very musical family, Josh and I have been playing tunes together for nearly our entire lives. We've always dreamed of being in a band together, and being brothers, we've got an instinctual musical connection. We tried once before to get a band together, but that imploded partially due to the passive aggression and bickering that can also come with being brothers.
Nathan and I had been friends for a few years and had never discussed creating together. One night Nate and I crossed paths on my way to some bar, and ended up sharing more than a few drinks. I found out that he was a bass player...he sat in on the next few practices and fit in perfectly...a few weeks later we were a trio. He continues to be the only musician I've met capable of tolerating Josh and me in a small space for eight-plus hours a week.
Alex - you also have an expanding visual art portfolio (note Artisphere exhibit), do you foresee incorporating visual art with the live performances?
Like any other art school kid, I've got a visual inclination. I do end up designing most of our promo materials, so there's that I suppose. I maintain an active studio practice, most recently showing my installation Orphan at Artisphere; ultimately though, my medium is sound. I see Bella Russia as a collective of artists: Josh is an amazing painter and draftsman and Nathan is a talented professional photographer. I could certainly see some live visual elements surfacing shortly.
We're just trying to be careful; we don't want to use visuals and such as a crutch or as filler. Especially while we're still an instrumental band I want to test our motives, make sure that we aren't using visual interaction to assuage our lack of a human vocalist. Currently, we hope we can engage an audience primarily through the sounds we make; but if eventually we find a way to visually embellish the live experience without distracting from the music, then we'll be all about it.
Recently your sound was labeled as "good proggy rock", what's your opinion?
Proggy is a strange word; and to be honest I'm not thoroughly familiar with the genre. I like "good" and "rock" though, so that's alright with me. It doesn't matter. We're trying very, very hard to be as sincere as possible with what we put out. If people connect to it, I don't care how they label it.
What can we look forward to next from Bella Russia? Any rabbits up your sleeve?
We've been working on adding some digital sounds, especially in the percussion section. So you might look forward to Josh dropping some danceable jams and booty beats behind the melodies sometime soon. We're also on the lookout for another member, preferably a multi-instrumentalist who wants to sing sometimes. If that works out, you can look forward to actually singing along to some new Bella Russia songs in the future.
Past that, our first album is currently being mixed by Hays Holladay (of Bluebrain); and we're super excited to get that pressed and released maybe within a month. After that we'd like to tour, and are trying very hard to find a way to represent DC at SXSW in March.
You have played shows with local greats like Janel & Anthony and More Humans and have an upcoming show with The Doozies, Big Hush & The Tender Thrill @ The Pinch. Is there any band you hope to share the stage with next?
I've been nagging Bluebrain to start playing shows again so that we can open for them. If we're talking anything's possible, it'd be in the Dupont Underground. And while the former seems to be a real possibility, I'm not sure that the Dupont Underground has a booking agent, or electricity, so...
Following Pink Line Project's mission to propel awareness of local DC art and artists, name one artist you admire and what about their work that speaks to you?
Well, it could be considered collusion to be honest and say Amy Hughes Braden since we're married and all, even though I think that she's the singularly most talented and hardest working artist inside the Beltway; and I'd look like a total fanboy to mention Bluebrain again even though The Living House was one of the most amazing installations I've ever seen...
I was really impressed by Gabriel Mellan's performance at the Aether Art and 229 Collective collaborative pop-up show. He built and wore this exoskeleton that (through MIDI, I think) signaled all these different sounds specific to what his body was doing. I was impressed by the craftsmanship but also by this guy looking like a total nerd and just walking around amongst paintings and photographs, being art.
I'm also drawn to the work of Forest Allread.* The way he approaches racial issues, specifically as a white male, is uniquely fresh and engaging. He's also got an amazing eye for color. And he's a super nice guy. I love it when artists are nice.
Thanks Alex! Right on!
Come ride the turbulant wave with me (and Amy Braden) at The Pinch this Friday, January 11. Doors at 8, this show is FREE! Check out the other DC-based bands playing this tubular show with Bella Russia: The Doozies, Big Hush, and The Tender Thrill.
Join the event on Facebook here.
*Forest Allread's solo show Cabinets of Curiosity opens at Transformer on January 18! Opening reception 6-8, artist remarks at 6:30.
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